The Best Hip-Hop of 2009

by Andrew Martin, Michael Miller, and Quentin B. Huff

14 December 2009


Best Mixtapes

Best Mixtapes


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Kid Cudi

Dat Kid from Cleveland

US: 20 Apr 2009
UK: 20 Apr 2009


“I love the hate, I love the positive”, Kid Cudi prefaces his 2009 mixtape, laughing his way through his unanimous acceptance. That kind of humor holds this mixtape together. It’s Kid Cudi at his absolutely most playful, not taking himself too seriously, and so making his best music. The burlesque show stand-up routine of “I Poke Her Face” has one of the most clever samples of the year (guess what song it is?); “Look Up in Da Stars”, with Wale, is the sound of two hungry artists on the verge of a breakout; Consequence’s performance on the jazzy “Buggin’ Out 2009” overshadows Cudi’s performance, but that’s also the point. This mixtape sounds like Cudi’s throwing a party, and if someone else steals the spotlight for a minute, Cudi is still the ringmaster. He throws a hell of a party, too. Michael Miller



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J. Period & K’naan

The Messengers: Volumes I, II, and III

US: 22 Sep 2009
UK: 22 Sep 2009


Along with folks like DJ Green Lantern, Mick Boogie, and DJ Drama, J. Period has made a serious name in the mixtape trade. Somali-born rapper K’naan joins J. Period for three volumes of nonstop action in homage to iconic musicians with messages: Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan.  It takes quite a bit of audacity to lay your vocals alongside three legends, but K’naan actually sounds like a natural addition to the proceedings. Equal parts tribute, mic skills, and smart selections from discographies, The Messengers succeeds in entertaining as much as it educates. Quentin B. Huff



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Lil’ Wayne

No Ceilings

US: 31 Oct 2009
UK: 31 Oct 2009


As this year pressed on, hip-hop heads were wondering what the hell Lil’ Wayne was doing. After appeasing fans with Tha Carter III and plenty of guest verses, it looked like Weezy had kind of lost it. He recorded self-indulgent singles like “Prom Queen”, which will appear on his “rock” album—the much-delayed Rebirth. It seemed like he might be moving away from the straightforward insane lyricism his fans fell in love with. It appears that he heard the rumblings, because he definitely responded with No Ceilings. It has its weak moments, such as a few recycled rhymes here and there, but it’s a very strong effort overall. And most of his guests, such as Shanell, are essentially less talented carbon-copies of Wayne. But when the focus is solely on the self-proclaimed “Martian”, this mixtape in nearly unstoppable. Weezy slays tracks like Noreaga’s “Banned from TV” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town”, turning them into even more bombastic displays of bravado. Here’s hoping Wayne maintains his creativity when unleashing that aforementioned rock album and the Young Money group project. Andrew Martin



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Wale & 9th Wonder

Back to the Feature

(Phantom Sound & Vision)
US: 10 Nov 2009
UK: 30 Nov 2009


Was I the only one hoping Wale would never, ever sign with a label? Not to player hate on his “official” debut, Attention Deficit, especially since I enjoyed it well enough, but I guess I’m sentimental.  Wale’s Back to the Feature is our Washington, D.C. go-go boy’s last outing as a free agent.  It brings a tear to my DIY, indie-minded eye.  No, it’s not as triumphant as 2007’s Seinfeld-inspired The Mixtape About Nothing, but it still packs a punch. Back to the Feature loosely plays on the film Back to the Future, with 9th Wonder as the scientist behind the beats. It also amasses a stack of intriguing guest spots. If you’ve ever wondered what Wale would sound like alongside, say, Lady Gaga, Talib Kweli, Joe Budden, and Jean Grae—well, now you know. Quentin B. Huff



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So Far Gone

(Cash Money)
US: 15 Sep 2009
UK: 28 Sep 2009

Review [27.Sep.2009]


“I’ve got a certain lust for life”, Drake sings at the opening of So Far Gone, overtop one of the most ambient beats in hip-hop history. That ethereal atmosphere continues throughout, continuously contradicting Drake’s lyrics about all kinds of familiar hip-hop extravagance. “Houstatlantavegas”, is a would-be club anthem that transforms into a tragic stripper opera, including the most depressing “throw your ones up in the air” ever. “Ignant Shit” samples “Big Poppa” so that it sounds like an ‘80s video game soundtrack, and when Drake says, “My song is your girlfriend’s alarm or whatever”, he almost sounds sorry. The gospel organ of “Uptown” creates a deep frustration, nearly overpowering Drake when he admits, “Now I run the game”, his voice competing with his hook. All the while, a Can drumbeat pounds away, creating a brilliant kaleidoscope of styles and influences. Michael Miller


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